A grand time at the Colca Canyon

Most people have heard of the Grand Canyon, and yet most people haven’t heard of the Colca Canyon in Peru, which is a shame because the Colca Canyon is twice as deep as its more famous counterpart.

Perhaps it’s because the sides of the Colca aren’t as steep as the Grand Canyon that it doesn’t share the same fame.  Certainly parts of the canyon are habitable, and its name, Colca, refers to the many small holes in the cliffs and the valley that were used by the Inca and Pre-Inca to store food and as tombs for their dead.

One of the inhabited towns is Chivay, which lies at a height of almost 12,000 feet above sea level, where the air is thin and the people very hardy.  Chivay has a number of thermal springs and an interesting Inca-style bridge which crosses a deep ravine on the Colca River, but it is popular with tourists who come to see Condor Cross where giant condors can be seen soaring on the thermal uplifts.

The Canyon reaches a depth of 3140 metres (10,725 feet) so you can understand why it is so impressive.  A journey to the Colca Valley will take you throughout high Andean plateau, where you get excellent views of the nearby volcanoes.  The local people still practise centuries old traditions, particularly as applies to farming for they continue to farm using deep terraces which cover whole sides of steep hills.  In fact, many of the towns and villages in the canyon haven’t changed much in the last 400 years.

One of the best ways to enjoy the canyon is on foot, and there are a number of treks available which require various levels of fitness, particularly as do a lot of ascending and descending.  One of the favourite treks is to start at the town of Cabanaconde and trek downhill to the riverside oasis of Sangalle. Because it is so low, Sangalle has a pleasant subtropical climate that will lull you into lounging or swimming in the pools nearby.    

You can get to the Colca Canyon by first travelling to arguably Peru’s most beautiful city – Arequipa.  Perched at an altitude of 2,335 meters (7,661 feet) above sea level; the former snow-capped volcano El Misti overlooks the city.  Nicknamed the white city because much of Arequipa is built white volcanic rock it still retains so many of its Spanish colonial-era architecture that the city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are plenty of tour companies which can make arrangements for you to explore the Colca Canyon or, if you’re independent-minded, you can just catch a bus from Arequipa and set out on your own adventure.

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